Last week on World Population Day, I was thinking of the joy of children and the right of women to decide when to have them. It matters to women, but it matters to society as a whole. There can be no sustainable development without women’s empowerment, and there can be no women’s empowerment without access to comprehensive maternal and reproductive health services. Family planning is part of them.
My inbox has been buzzing with praise for a new paper on this issue by the Carnegie Endowment’s democracy guru, Thomas Carothers. Since he’s one of my favourite guest posters (no editing ever required), I asked him to summarize its findings.
Last year the gender, women, and democracy team at the National Democratic Institute approached me with a question. NDI, like many groups engaged in supporting democracy internationally, was responding to the increasingly fraught landscape of global democracy by attempting to think more strategically and move fully away from any lingering tendency to pursue a standard democracy “menu” across extremely diverse political contexts. NDI’s gender team wanted to insert women’s political empowerment programming into the new strategic discussion. Would I help them think it through? The team deflected my protests that I lack expertise on women’s empowerment, telling me they would help me get up to speed. They also politely pointed out that as someone who presents himself as a general expert on democratic change, perhaps it was time for me to correct my lack of knowledge about the gender domain. I signed on.
After some months of delving into the literature on women’s political empowerment and interviewing numerous aid practitioners and women’s activists working on the front lines, some interesting findings came into focus. I present them in my new paper, “Democracy Support Strategies: Leading with Women’s Political Empowerment.”
At first glance, programs seeking to foster greater women’s political empowerment did seem to follow a standard menu –everywhere I looked I saw training for women candidates in local and national elections, efforts to strengthen the role of women within political parties, advocacy in favor of gender quotas in legislatures, and support for women’s parliamentary caucuses. Yet when I probed how such programming unfolds across different transitional contexts, important variations emerged.
October 17 was End Poverty Day – and we at the World Bank in Washington had a small celebration and a lively discussion around the new Poverty report: Poverty and Shared Prosperity 2016: Taking on Inequality. Topics ranged from 2 billion people living in countries affected by conflict to the work on social inclusion – which included a two-part definition of social inclusion: “The process of improving the terms for individuals and groups to take part in society” and “The process of improving the ability, opportunity, and dignity of people, disadvantaged on the basis of their identity, to take part in society.”
Then I happened to notice a tweet from Owen Barder on the Sidekick Manifesto (with a cool pop art look) with the apt tagline: In the story of poverty’s end, we can only be sidekicks. I particularly liked the statement: “The poor are not powerless or waiting to be saved.”
It seemed to be a good reminder that economic development is a complex and costly process, which requires political buy-in from a broad range of actors, including the local community. Progress is built over time, and there are no quick wins. In the larger scheme of things, the poor are the main actors, we’re just the sidekicks for development.
Rosie Parkyn explores the opportunities and challenges online media presents in addressing the gender equality gap.
‘If you see it, you can be it’ could have been the unofficial slogan of the International Development Cooperation meeting on Gender and Media, where I was invited to talk about the opportunities created by the internet and online media to counter gender stereotyping, or the assignment of particular characteristics and roles according to sex. This is a theme touched on by our Policy Briefing, Making Waves: Media’s Potential for Girls in the Global South.
Much has been said about the need to achieve better visibility for girls and women in the media if gender equality is to be realised. This year’s Global Media Monitoring Project reported that women make up only 24% of people heard, read about or seen in news reporting. That coverage is often characterised by gender bias and extensive stereotyping.
So could the onward expansion of digital spaces fast track the process of ensuring girls and women are seen in a diversity of roles? The short answer is yes of course, it has transformative potential. But there are significant caveats.
It is several days after the earthquake in Nepal. A small group of Nepali women sit on the side of the road in a village in Dhading district, 26 kilometres from Kathmandu. In this village, many people lost their homes and several died in the earthquake.
The women are listening attentively to a radio programme, Milijuli Nepali meaning ‘Together Nepal’. After it finishes, one of the women starts asking the others questions: What did they think to the programme? Did they learn anything? What else would they like to hear to help them cope in the aftermath of the earthquake? The women start discussing some of the issues raised around shelter and hygiene, they like the creative ideas suggestions, particularly as they comes from a source they like and trust - the BBC. They give the researcher their ideas for future programmes and she writes them down.
In the development business, DFID is a research juggernaut (180 dedicated staff, £345m annual budget, according to the ad for a new boss for its Research and Evidence Division). So it’s good news that they are consulting researchers, NGOs, etc. tomorrow on their next round of funding for research on empowerment and accountability (E&A). Unfortunately, I can’t make it, but I had an interesting exchange with Oxfam’s Emily Brown, who will be there, on some of the ideas we think they should be looking at. Here’s a sample:
What do we need to know?
On E&A, we really need to nail down the thorny topic of measurement – how do you measure say, women’s empowerment, in a manner that satisfies the ‘gold standard’ demands of the results/value for money people? And just to complicate matters, shouldn’t a true measure of empowerment be determined by the people concerned in each given context, rather than outside funders? We’ve made some progress on such ‘hard to measure benefits’, but there’s still a long way to go.
This is a short piece written for UNDP, which is organizing my Kapuscinski lecture in Malta on Wednesday (4pm GMT, webcast live)
Power is intangible, but crucial; a subtle and pervasive force field connecting individuals, communities and nations in a constant process of negotiation, contestation and change. Development is, at its heart, about the redistribution and accumulation of power by citizens.
Much of the standard work on empowerment focuses on institutions and the world of formal power – can people vote, express dissent, organise, find decent jobs, get access to information and justice?
These are all crucial questions, but there is an earlier stage; power ‘within’. The very first step of empowerment takes place in the hearts and minds of the individuals who ask: ‘Do I have rights? Am I a fit person to express a view? Why should anyone listen to me? Am I willing and able to speak up, and what will happen if I do?’
Asking, (and answering) such questions is the first step in exercising citizenship, the process by which men and women engage with each other, and with decision-makers; coming together to seek improvements in their lives. Such engagement can be peaceful (the daily exercise of the social contract between citizen and state), but it may also involve disagreement and conflict, particularly when power must be surrendered by the powerful, to empower those ‘beneath’ them.
Monitoring, Evaluation and Learning (MEL) used to send me into a coma, but I have to admit, I’m starting to get sucked in. After all, who doesn’t want to know more about the impact of what we do all day?
So I picked up the latest issue of Oxfam’s Gender and Development Journal (GAD), on MEL in gender rights work, with a shameful degree of interest.
Two pieces stood out. The first, a reflection on Oxfam’s attempts to measure women’s empowerment, had some headline findings that ‘women participants in the project were more likely to have the opportunity and feel able to influence affairs in their community. In contrast, none of the reviews found clear evidence of women’s increased involvement in key aspects of household decision-making.’ So changing what goes on within the household is the toughest nut to crack? Sounds about right.
But (with apologies to Oxfam colleagues), I was even more interested in an article by Jane Carter and 9 (yes, nine) co-authors, looking at 3 Swiss-funded women’s empowerment projects (Nepal, Bangladesh and Kosovo). They explored the tensions between the kinds of MEL preferred by donors (broadly, generating lots of numbers) and alternative ways to measure what has been going on.